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Govt. has done little to bring down prices, especially of food items – LSSP

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The ban on crowd gathering in view of the Covid-19 epidemic led to cancellation of the usual events that is a feature of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year festivities. But the practice of visiting the homes of relatives and friends with “rasa kavili” could have gone ahead as usual. But this was greatly limited this New Year, mainly due to the high prices of food items.

It is unfortunate that the Government has done little to bring down prices, specially of food items. Present scientific studies show that the malnutrition level has gone up to a record level of 18% and that the poverty level has reached 60%. The outcome is a high level of hunger, and many families have only one proper meal a day.

The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), along with the SLCP, has called on the Government to strengthen the Cooperative Movement and ensure that essential food items are made available at a reasonable price. The high price, specially of vegetables and fruits, is due to massive profiteering by middlemen. The farmer gets a pittance and the consumer is fleeced. The LSSP appeals to the Government to take the side of the farmer and the consumer, not the middleman.

Active intervention by the Government is required if prices are to be brought down. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has shown his concern and suggested that the way out is to produce more. Theoretically, if the supply exceeds the demand, the prices should come down. But unfortunately in Sri Lanka this does not happen. One reason is that the middlemen have their own stores and stock the extra produce, create an artificial scarcity and raise prices.

At the butt end of criticism are two companies which buy the paddy at rock bottom prices. They hold the stock in their massive stores. They have developed a monopoly of the milling industry with their large mills, putting the small millers out of business. Thereby, they control the supply of rice in the country, making huge profits from all consumers.

This calls for strong determined action by Government. The state must intervene actively. When the global drought and food scarcities occurred in 1972, the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government with Dr. N M Perera, the LSSP leader as the Finance Minister, strengthened and expanded the Paddy Marketing Board and its Stores, buying rice from the farmers at the fair guaranteed price. The Marketing Department and its stores bought the vegetables and fruits at a fair price from the farmers.

These were supported by Sathosa with regard to imported goods and the CWE with regard to local produce, as wholesellers. The consumer got all his requirements at a fair price through the retail outlets of the Cooperative stores. The profiteering by the middlemen and private traders dropped drastically. They were forced to come down in their prices. The LSSP calls upon the Government to take similar action now.

This situation is aggravated by the rural debt crisis. Most families are deeply in debt and are forced to sell their produce at low prices to the mudalalis and local money lenders. Once they settle their loans at harvest time, to cover the cost for the next kanna and harvest (when money comes in to the farmer) he is compelled to take further loans. The farmer is caught in a debt trap which keeps him in poverty. The Rural Banks can give loans at a low interest level for all types of agriculture but for some reason he farmers are not made aware of this.

There should be an active drive to make the farmers aware of this route to escape the debt trap. The Central Bank was giving loans to Rural Banks from a Special Fund at a low annual interest rate of 7%. It is the duty of all officials to inform the farmers and ensure that they get the benefits and escape from the debt trap. The politicians and the officials must not allow the middlemen to get their profits at the expense of the farmers and the consumers.

The people are facing a very difficult time not only because of the high cost of living, but also due to the drop in incomes. Many garment factories are closing down or cutting staff and even salaries. This applies to a varying extent to many private institutions and shops. The Government has made some effort to help these private institutions but it is not adequate. The large number who are going hungry must be provided with food either as dry rations or cooked meals immediately. I appeal to the Government to delay its development program. Highways can wait. The immediate need is to feed the hungry. Give this first priority.

At this time of crisis the private sector too should share the burden with the Government. It is absurd to keep the upper limit of personal income tax to just 14%. In most European countries the initial minimum is 14% and it rises to around 45%. In some Scandinavian countries it is 60%. Sri Lanka should raise the upper limit to at least 45%. I hope that the Government will rectify this shortcoming as soon as possible.

The luxury lifestyle of the few must be checked soon as otherwise those who are hungry may be forced to take to the streets. The LSSP, SLCP and other Left parties are having a separate May Day celebration, as was done before on several occasions, while being in the Government. The working class have many grievances that need to be addressed. We hope to raise these matters on their behalf on Workers Day.

– Prof. Tissa Vitarana



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Parliament prorogued

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by Saman Indrajith

Parliament has been prorogued with effect from midnight yesterday (27) by President Ranil Wickremeisnghe under Article 70 of the Constitution. The Department of Government Printing issued the Gazette notification annoucing the presidential order yesterday evening.The new Parliament session is scheduled to commence on Feb. 08.

A prorogation, which is a temporary recess of Parliament, should not extend to a period of more than two months, However, such date for summoning Parliament may be advanced by another Presidential Proclamation, provided it is summoned for a date not less than three days from the date of such fresh proclamation.

When Parliament is prorogued, the Proclamation should notify the date for the commencement of the new Session of Parliament, under Paragraph (3) of Article 70 of the Constitution.

During the prorogation the Speaker continues to function and the Members retain their membership, even though they do not attend meetings of Parliament.The effect of a prorogation is to suspend all current Business before the House, and all proceedings, pending at the time, are quashed, except impeachments.

A Bill, motion or question of the same substance cannot be introduced for a second time during the same Session. However, it could be carried forward at a subsequent Session, after a prorogation.

“All matters which having been duly brought before Parliament, and have not been disposed of at the time of the prorogation of Parliament, may be proceeded with during the next Session,” states the Paragraph (4) of Article 70 of the Constitution.

In the light of this constitutional provision, a prorogation does not put an end to pending Business. Thus, a pending matter may be proceeded with from that stage onwards after the commencement of the new Session. At the beginning of a new Session, all items of Business which were in the Order Paper of Parliament, need to be re-listed, if it is desired to continue with them.

At the end of a prorogation, a new Session begins and is ceremonially declared open by the President. He is empowered, under the Constitution, to make a Statement of Government Policy in Parliament, at the commencement of each Session of Parliament, and to preside at ceremonial sittings of Parliament, in terms of the provisions stipulated in Paragraph (2) of Article 33 of the Constitution.

The President is empowered to make a statement of Government Policy at the commencement of each new Session. In the past, it was known as the Throne Speech which was delivered by the Governor-General.

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LG elections may turn violent – CPA

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By PRIYAN DE SILVA

Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and co-convener of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu has warned that the March 9 LG polls (if held) may turn violent as political parties are fighting for their survival as the results of the election may be considered as a referendum. He said it was doubtful whether the election would be held.

Dr. Saravanamuttu sounded this warning at the conference on Campaign Finance Regulations, convened by the CMEV, and Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), which was held last Thursday (26). He recalled that once when he asked former President Mahinda Rajapaksa about campaign and party finances, the latter’s reply had been as follows: “I am not going to tell you the whole story, I cannot tell you the whole story and I will not tell you the whole story”

The Campaign Finance Regulation Act became law last Tuesday (24) and Dr. Saravanamuttu pointed out that the former President’s quip highlighted the challenges of collecting information on exactly how much is actually being used. “It is important that the public should know, whether it be cash or kind, from where the money comes from. And the information be made available to the public.”

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President: Cabinet has agreed to implement 13A fully

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe, on Thursday, informed the All Party Leaders Conference on Reconciliation that the Cabinet was agreeable to fully implementing the 13th Amendment.Issuing a statement on Friday, the President’s Media Division (PMD) said the President is bound to implement the laws of the land and the 13th Amendment is a part of the Constitution.

“The 13th Amendment has been in existence for over 30 years. I must implement it. If anyone is opposed, they can bring in a constitutional amendment to change it, or abolish it,” he said.

The President said that the country has to decide whether to fully implement the 13th Amendment or abolish it. “We can’t decide to do neither. Any MP can bring a private members motion to abolish the 13A. What happens when most people don’t support the motion? We will have to fully implement it,” he said.

The President said that he is working, according to a Supreme Court decision, on 13A. “We have to look, especially at the decision given by Chief Justice Palinda Ranasinghe. We are still in the bounds of a unitary state. I am against a Federal state but I support the devolution of power to provinces. The provincial councils don’t even have the powers enjoyed by the City of London. So we can’t call this a federal state,” he said.

Wickremesinghe added that former President J.R. Jayawardane and his lawyers took great pains to prevent the 13A from leading to a federal state. He added that at the end of the war, against the LTTE, a large number of lands in the North and the East, that belonged to private owners, were under the control of the Army. However, most of it had been returned to the people, under presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena.

“Only about 3000 acres are under the security forces. The forces must be given the opportunity to release these lands, without hindering national security. The Land Commission, too, must be immediately established. The draft on that can be presented by March. The Commission will have nine members, from each province ,and 12 will be appointed by the President. The we can come up with a national land policy and the Commission can implement the land policy,” he said.

The President said that 30 percent of the land will be allocated for forests. Large swaths of forests, in the upcountry, and in the catchment areas, for rivers, have been destroyed.

“We must increase the forest cover and the Land Commission must be entrusted with this,” he said.

The President added that he will provide further information, on February 08, on how the amendment will be implemented. He urged political parties to submit their proposals by February 04, the Independence Day of the country.

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